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Fabre: Poet of Science

213 pages
Library of Alexandria
Here I offer to the public the life of Jean-Henri Fabre; at once an admiring commentary upon his work and an act of pious homage, such as ought to be offered, while he lives, to the great naturalist who is even to-day so little known. Hitherto it was not easy to speak of Henri Fabre with exactitude. An enemy to all advertisement, he has so discreetly held himself withdrawn that one might almost say that he has encouraged, by his silence, many doubtful or unfounded rumours, which in course of time would become even more incorrect. For example, although quite recently his material situation was presented in the gloomiest of lights, while it had really for some time ceased to be precarious, it is none the less true that during his whole life he has had to labour prodigiously in order to earn a little money to feed and rear his family, to the great detriment of his scientific inquiries; and we cannot but regret that he was not freed from all material cares at least twenty years earlier than was the case. But he was not one to speak of his troubles to the first comer; and it was only after the sixth volume of the "Souvenirs entomologiques" had appeared that his reserve was somewhat mitigated. Yet it was necessary that he should speak of these troubles, that he should tell everything; and, thanks to his conversation and his letters, I have been able to revive the past. Among the greatest of my pleasures I count the notable honour of having known him, and intimately. As an absorbed and attentive witness I was present at the accomplishment of his last labours; I watched his last years of work, so critical, so touching, so forsaken, before his ultimate resurrection. What fruitful and suggestive lessons I learned in his company, as we paced the winding paths of his Harmas; or while I sat beside him, at his patriarchal table, interrogating that memory of his, so rich in remembrances that even the remotest events of his life were as near to him as those that had only then befallen him; so that the majority of the judgments to be found in this book, of which not a line has been written without his approval, may be regarded as the direct emanation of his mind. As far as possible I have allowed him to speak himself. Has he not sketched the finest pages of his "biography of a solitary student" in those racy chapters of his "Souvenirs": those in which he has developed his genesis as a naturalist and the history of the evolution of his ideas? In all cases I have only introduced such indications as were essential to complete the sequence of events. It would have been idle to re-tell in the same terms what every one may read elsewhere, or to repeat in different and less happy terms what Fabre himself has told so well. I have therefore applied myself more especially to filling the gaps which he has left, by listening to his conversation, by appealing to his memories, by questioning his contemporaries, by recording the impressions of his sometime pupils. I have endeavoured to assemble all these data, in order to authenticate them, and have also gleaned many facts among his manuscripts, and have had recourse to all that portion of his correspondence which fortunately fell into my hands.